One of the canonical plays of Ancient Greek tragedy, Medea tells the story of the eponymous barbarian witch-princess who finds her life torn apart as her Greek husband forges a new, loveless political marriage. As Medea finds only rejection and betrayal all around her in the Corinthian court, she devises a suitably violent solution. Medea is at times terrifyingly cold and at others disastrously loving and full of genuine grief. Furthermore, as both a woman and a foreigner from a primordial and unnervingly mystical land, Medea is both victim of a patriarchal society and the Greek’s quintessential ‘Other,’ and the play examines these themes throughout its tale of revenge.
The Theatre Lab Company has put a unique spin on this classic tale with an eye for the visually and sonically captivating, delivering a well rounded experience. The performance is accompanied throughout by fantastic compositions from Daemonia Nymphe, a two person musical group who play a blend of traditional and more recognisable instruments. The music moves between providing a moody background to taking centre stage with songs sung ensemble by the ‘Greek chorus’, an impressive contemporary take on the ancient practice of singing and dancing through much of the drama.
The visual element has been carefully designed and choreographed also, with Medea appearing in particularly otherworldly costume. A sumptuous feast complete with musical entertainment begins the drama and physical action remains a focus throughout. The levels of choreography, however, could at times become excessive. One ‘chair fight’ came across as feeble and irritatingly distracting, as was the constant moving of furniture on stage in preparation for later scenes, which only seemed more bizarre as the actresses repeatedly sat and rose from their recently moved chairs in what seemed an effort to hide what they were doing.
The handling of Medea’s children on stage was similarly disappointing, substituting them for two tiny pairs of trainers hung around Medea’s neck. In ancient theatre, much of the action takes place offstage, as would have been the case here. In an earlier scene, a messenger had reported the gruesome death of the king’s daughter whilst a member of the chorus acted it out before us. It is a shame that the Theatre Lab Company couldn’t have created anything equally as impressive for Medea’s far more shocking murder of her own children.
Despite these minor complaints, the performance was held up marvellously by its acting talent. Marlene Kaminsky was unique, fascinating and terrifying as Medea, hissing and screeching as she carried out magical rituals before ancient gods. The (sadly) more minor role of Creon, the hard-hearted king of Corinth, was a perfect fit for George Siena (who also played two other minor characters), and the three chorus members (Denise Moreno, Laura Morgan and Charlotte Gallagher) performed their songs with an astonishing synchronicity.
The Theatre Lab Company has created a solid and original adaption of Euripides’ classic which attempts to play on all the senses at once. Sadly, many of these innovations are causes only for distraction, hiding the powerful dialogue underneath a curtain of physical drama clichés. Despite this, the quality of the performers and the musical accompaniment still make for a richly rewarding and enjoyable evening.
- By Euripides
- Adapted by the Theatre Lab Company from a translation by Ian Johnston
- Directed by Anastasia Revi
- Music by Daemonia Nymphe
- Riverside Studios, London
- Until 22nd March 2014
- Time: 19:45
- Review by Patrick Skipworth
- 8 March 2014